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Water for the Holidays






Water for the Holidays



Posted on October 24, 2018


This Holiday season, Guillermo is hosting Christmas at his house. For many people hosting a holiday gathering can be quite overwhelming. But for Guillermo Lopez (34) and his mother, Andrea, having family over for Christmas is the most rewarding and long-awaited gift they could have ever received.

Guillermo lives along Daleville Avenue, an unincorporated neighborhood five miles south of Central Fresno, just south of Orange Center Elementary School. This community is home to approximately 200 families with median household incomes of roughly $30,000. “I’ve lived in this area my whole life,” Guillermo said.  “I feel safe here; you never hear about people breaking into anyone’s house because we all watch out after each other.”

In the pre-drought years, this community was bursting with life and laughter as kids happily played in grassy front yards. Saturdays were filled with the familiar sounds of mowers as proud homeowners tended their landscapes. But one February afternoon in 2014, the water suddenly stopped flowing and things drastically changed. Guillermo’s family was among the thousands who were deeply affected by the drought. For an entire year, Guillermo and his mother were in complete survival mode driving to Fresno to buy water every 2 to 3 days, hauling home anywhere between six to ten 5-gallon water jugs each time. This was physically very strenuous for Guillermo considering he was left disabled after a battle with Valley Fever 15 years prior. “It was hard to adjust, but we had no other choice”, Guillermo reflected.  They quickly learned creative ways to leverage and conserve the water they bought, like using bath water to replenish their plants. “We used the same water that we showered with to water our plants. Now that we don’t have grass, we tried to keep a few plants in the front so that our house didn’t look completely dry.”

Guillermo is an “organic” community leader who genuinely cares about his neighbors. He is able to recognize an issue and take it upon himself to seek the necessary help.  However, at that time, there was no help. “I researched everywhere,” Guillermo explained. “I looked all over the City’s and County’s website; I could not find anything to help us.” Fortunately, Guillermo eventually connected with Self-Help Enterprises (SHE), a community development nonprofit that began working with this community in hopes of addressing the area’s water quality issues. The conversation quickly shifted focus when SHE learned that many wells in this community were completely dry, and others at the risk of becoming dry.

In 2014, SHE began designing and implementing a drought relief program, a collaborative effort between the U.S. Department of Agriculture, State of California, multiple counties in the Central Valley, and other organizations to assist residents affected by the drought. It was through this program, in partnership with the Fresno County Office of Emergency Services and the Fresno Economic Opportunities Commission, that Guillermo and several of his neighbors were provided with temporary water storage tanks while a more permanent solution was determined. On October 2015, Guillermo’s temporary water tank was installed and a slight sense of normalcy returned.

An existing consolidation project that began in 2016, between Orange Center School and the City of Fresno laid a foundational water line “loop” along Cherry Avenue, East Avenue and Central Avenue, connecting on North Avenue in Fresno. This project would eventually allow the residents along Daleville Avenue to connect to the City’s water system. Serving as the applicant, the City of Fresno worked with SHE to secure multiple state funding sources such as the State Water Board Revolving Fund, to install a main line on Daleville Avenue, tying into the loop via the School/City consolidation.

During this time, Guillermo played a vital role in engaging his community and educating them on the benefits that would come with connecting to the City’s water system. While many were skeptical in the beginning, Guillermo helped them understand that connecting now was the best long-term solution, even for those that already paid to dig a new well. Guillermo worked closely with Sue Ruiz, Community Development Specialist for Self-Help Enterprises and together lead community meetings and built community support.

After three long and rough years without permanent water, Guillermo, along with 39 other families whose wells failed due to drought conditions and/or were affected by contaminated water, are now officially connected to the City of Fresno public water system. Since being connected, Guillermo says their stress level significantly decreased. Today, Guillermo can joyfully plan a holiday gathering instead of worrying about whether they have enough water to flush their toilets. “We like to make people feel comfortable when they come to our house: Before, we couldn’t do that because visiting family felt like they couldn’t even go to the restroom because they didn’t want to waste the water that we needed. So it was hard to have people over. We don’t have to worry about that anymore,” Guillermo smiled. Today, Guillermo can bake (a much-loved hobby) without worrying he will run out of water needed to clean the dirty dishes. Today, Guillermo and his mother have the peace of mind they yearned for so long. “If it wasn’t for Sue and Self-Help Enterprises, I really think we would still be without water and struggling”.

This is a happy ending for Guillermo and his neighbors. However, the truth is that while the rest of the state has moved on from the drought crises, the San Joaquin Valley has not fully recovered and ramifications continue today. Over 200 Valley families continue to rely on Self-Help Enterprises’ drought relief efforts for trucked water to meet their household water needs. If you are a community in need of emergency drought relief, please visit our website for more information.